Explosives detectionNext-Generation Explosives Trace Detection Technology

Published 25 August 2020

Explosive materials pose a threat whether they are used by domestic bad actors or in a theater of war. Staying ahead of our adversaries is a job that DHS DOD share. The two departments’ research and development work is no different.

Explosive materials pose a threat whether they are used by domestic bad actors or in a theater of war and staying ahead of our adversaries is a job that the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense share. Our research and development work is no different.

Most recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHSScience and Technology Directorate (S&T) transitioned technology to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), technology which is “representative of S&T’s deep body of work in cataloging, detecting and thwarting explosive threats,” S&T says. “Now this body of work will help keep our warfighters and our nation safe from weapons of mass destruction (WMD) threats.”

The technology—a Next-Generation Mass Spectrometry Explosive Trace Detector (Next-Gen Mass Spec ETD)—was developed due to emerging explosive threats and evolving tactics by terrorists to evade detection. For the past decade, S&Tsays it has made it a top priority to equip and enhance DHS security personnel with next-generation capabilities that can rapidly identify and defeat these threats.

For example, we all know that explosive threats are a major concern in aviation security. They are the reason we remove our shoes as we go through airport checkpoints and why the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) scans every piece of luggage and cargo before loading them onto planes. The sheer variety of explosive materials, the many vehicles for deploying them, and the increasing tactics used to avoid detection pose a tremendous risk not only to American (and global) aviation, but across the entire homeland security enterprise.

Adapting S&T’s Existing ETD Tech to Help DARPA Detect Weapons of Mass Destruction
S&T has been working not only with TSA, but also U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Secret Service, to develop Next-Gen Mass Spec ETD capabilities for use at aviation checkpoints, border crossings, and other security operations across the country.

The program team realized that this technology could easily be modified to meet a pressing DARPA need as well. “The original intent of developing this Next-Gen Mass Spec ETD technology was to give Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) an alarm resolution tool that identifies, confirms and defeats current and emerging explosive threats,” said S&T Program Manager Michael Palamar.